Urgent / Rude / Arbitrary or Unnecessary / Banal
Even the most easy and simple task can be stressful if it needs to be repeated 100 times in 5 minutes. When the task is more complicated and it needs to be done in an unrealistic time frame, bad things can happen. I can see three usual outcomes to the unrealistic deadline.
- The best outcome is when librarian receives some help – from other librarians or from paralegals or even from the lawyer, and is able to get the job done in the required time.
- If there is no help forthcoming, the only way to meet an impossible deadline is to cut corners – do research which looks complete, but isn’t. That would be the worst outcome, and shouldn’t even be contemplated.
- The only other alternative is that the deadline is not met – and the work is finished when it is finished.
Whatever happens, a stressful time is guaranteed for all.
Sometimes tight and urgent deadlines cannot be avoided. I know this. But sometimes they can. I heard of one incident when a paralegal had been charged with collecting a few dozen cases which needed to go to Court the next morning. He was given this task at 10 am and did not approach the library about this until 4 pm!
That incident made me wonder how often these urgent requests are only urgent because someone upriver stuffed things up. All I’m saying is that it’s never too early to come to the library for help with a big research job.
Rudeness is the easiest element to avoid and probably the most virulent when it’s triggered. Rudeness often accompanies urgency and arbitrariness.
By rudeness I mean deliberate rudeness, not unrefined manners. Things like snapping or shouting, or making demeaning remarks.
Rudeness causes problems in the short term and the long term.
In the short term, unless the librarian has the emotional resilience of a robot, rudeness can ratchet up the difficulty levels of all aspects of the request. An easy request within a tight deadline may be transformed into a difficult request with an impossible deadline.
The good thing about where I work is that this sort of rudeness is extremely rare. Because it doesn’t happen a lot, when it does happen, it really sticks out. Word of it gets around, and in the long run, it’s never a desirable reputation to have.
Arbitrary or Unnecessary
Arbitrariness is when work is done for no reason. The most common instance is when a librarian busts her or his gut completing a difficult research task within a urgent deadline, only to learn later that none of it was actually needed.
Another manifestation of arbitrariness is when a judge or barrister insists that cases must be photocopied and not downloaded from a database as a pdf - which looks identical to the printed version. This really happens.
Unnecessary work is slightly different, it’s when the librarian has do a lot of work that’s unnecessary, usually because of the requestor’s carelessness or indifference. One example would be a wild goose chase caused by sloppily cited cases.
Banality needs some explanation about why it’s one of the elements. It is to emphasize that the Request from Hell is not just any difficult request. I don’t mind requests which are difficult and really test my research skills. Even if a request is urgent and arbitrary, and even if the requester is rude, if it’s a challenging question, I’m likely to learn something from the experience.
For me, a nasty request can’t be a true Request from Hell unless it’s also banal (“Common in a boring way, to the point of being predictable; containing nothing new or fresh.” From the Wiktionary).
My definition of the Request from Hell is meant to be extreme, the absolute worst of the worst. All four of the elements must be satisfied. That hasn't happened to me in my current job.
Of course, such a scale is very subjective. I imagine there could be librarians who are accustomed to dealing with what I consider the Request from Hell fairly regularly. There may be others who might read some of the things I have described and think I’ve already experienced several Requests from Hell. That is one of the interesting things about law firm libraries, there is such diversity in how they operate. I would love to hear other librarian’s opinions and experiences about this.
Please don’t name names of law firms or other employers in your comments.